Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book, The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel Hatred, and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.
When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at a news conference in Berlin with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Aug. 17, he publicly revealed, perhaps inadvertently, that while he has a long-standing record of Holocaust denial, he still felt perfectly willing to draw a comparison between the lethal actions of the Third Reich toward Jews and Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians.
“From 1947 to the present day,” Abbas said, “Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities—in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kafr Qasim, and many others—50 massacres, 50 Holocausts. And until today, and every day, there are casualties killed by the Israeli military.
It was Abbas’ use of the word “Holocaust” that drew such a fierce blowback, not only because it was recklessly uttered in Germany, but that it suggested that the deaths of Palestinians by Israel exceeded the extermination of Jews by the Nazis—in fact, absurdly, fifty times as many deaths.
Abbas, of course, is well known for his crude Holocaust denial, having written his doctoral dissertation that cast doubt on the number of Jewish fatalities in the Final Solution. In 1984, that dissertation was published as a book, The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, and laid out the fantasy that Zionists themselves were complicit in supporting the Nazi genocide, that they told the Nazis “to do as they wish to the Jews, as long as it guarantees individual immigration to Palestine . . . This was because it [the Zionist leaders] thought that raising the number of victims would increase its rights at the end of the war, when the bounty is divided.”
In Abbas’ hallucinatory worldview, Zionists were so inhumane, so rapacious and murderous in their zeal to create a Jewish homeland, that they willingly sacrificed millions of their brethren in order to achieve that statehood, not to mention reaping reparations as a result of inflated fatality numbers.
And even if Jews are to be believed when they recount the Holocaust, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is inexcusable since they should understand suffering and death by a murderous regime “If they [Jews] say that they made sacrifices in World War II, and we respect what they say, they should not treat us the way they were treated,” Abbas told Polish journalists in 2015. “We must not be a victim of the victim.”
And when Abbas accuses Israel of perpetrating 50 Holocausts on the Palestinians, it is an example of Holocaust revision, which anti-Semitism scholar Lesley Klaff noted “involves an inversion of reality (the Israelis are cast as the ‘new’ Nazis and the Palestinians as the ‘new’ Jews) . . . In short, the Holocaust . . . is now being used, instrumentally, as a means to express animosity towards the homeland of the Jews. ‘The victims have become perpetrators’ is being heard more and more. That is Holocaust Inversion.”
But why do Abbas, and other Holocaust deniers and minimizers elsewhere, compare the behavior of Israel in committing genocide with that of the Nazis while in the same breath denying such a genocide even occurred, or if it did with only a small number of Jewish deaths?
The Holocaust “myth” for Arabs serves a politically-healing purpose that no Western denier has needed to seek. Arabs, who do not care to mend the reputation of the Third Reich or defend its other nationalistic achievements by denying its role in the extermination of European Jewry, do want the reality, the actual happening of the Holocaust, to be proven false, if for no other reason than it at once diminishes most of Israel’s moral capital by eliminating once and for all the cataclysmic social and political event that led the world to accept and endorse the creation of the Jewish State.
It is also a politically expedient accomplishment to position the Palestinians as the ultimate victims among victimized peoples, and this is much easier without the inexpressible evil of the Holocaust as the core element of Israel’s tragic heritage.
If the victim status of Israel—and by extension, all Jews—can be diminished by exposing the alleged lie of the Holocaust, the Palestinians becomes the more aggrieved victim, a people victimized by former victims, the Jews, who spread the lie of their own suffering for material ends. Thus, for Abbas and other deniers, “denying the atrocity,” wrote Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman in their book Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? “denies any moral authority to victims of the atrocity.”
It is not without irony, of course, that while the Arab world, not to mention Israel-haters in the West, want to rob Jews of the piece of dismal history that brought about the extermination of six million of their brethren, they are eager to repeat regularly the vile comparison they draw between the perceived behavior and shared values of the Zionist state and the Nazi regime.
Abbas, and his like-minded brethren in the Arab world, have a secondary motive for resenting an event like the Holocaust, which has conferred on Israel victim status and, initially at least, gained the world’s sympathy. If he can point to a great lie that led to Israel’s creation, if he can ascribe to Israel a conspiratorial and exploitive deception that garnered the world’s financial and moral support for the “Zionist regime,” he can also dismiss the successes of the democratic Israeli state and help explain why the Palestinian’s own society and culture have languished in comparison—due to Jewish wile and duplicity.
Whether the critic believes that the Holocaust actually took place or not, in this instance, is immaterial; more important for these Jew-loathers is slandering and causing hurt to people, in the most cruel and hateful way, by comparing them to, and accusing them of having turned in to, a regime which practices genocide and engages in inhuman barbarism—just like the Nazis did. How better to cause the greatest hurt and to speak the gravest criticism than to deny or minimize on one hand that the Nazi atrocities and slaughter ever took place, and then to suggest, that if they did, the people reborn from that fire have descended morally to the same moral level as their former tormenters?
The overarching objective of Abbas’ campaign of Holocaust denial and inversion is at base to expose this vast conspiracy, that only he sees, once and for all, and to show how, in a worldwide fraud perpetrated over some 74 years, the Zionists have duped the world with a historical hoax of such perfidy that it has helped create an immoral state of Israel at the expense of the ever-aggrieved Palestinian people and Arab states.
He and his fellow Jew-haters yearn to peel away Jewish deceit and rewrite their history—this time with themselves, not Jews, as the victims—and no longer made to pay the price of Nazism’s treachery by having to define themselves in the mirror of another people’s own tragic history.